Can I Spot Train A Specific Area of My Body?
Spot training…..it’s like the rainbow unicorn of training. Is it real? Will you ever experience it? Can you really spot train the fat off love grips and saddlebags?
Spoiler alert—NO. The answer is no.
But the myth stays alive like some antibiotic resistant rash because people fuel it with the hope that the ability to train fat off a specific area is true.
Sadly…it’s not. Spot training, target training, spot reduction—whatever name you gave your unicorn—it’s not real.
If that’s all you needed, there you go. You can’t spot train. If you want to know why you can’t and what you can do to achieve your goals….then keep on reading curious soul.
Why Spot Training Doesn’t Work
If you are targeting a trouble area, knowing why it’s there can help you understand what you can do to get rid of it. There is a layer of fat between your skin and muscles. When your body burns fat, it doesn’t check your wish list when deciding from where to get the fat.
It gets it from everywhere.
When you train, your muscles are filled with fuel from fat, carbs and protein and that fuel comes from everywhere. Your entire body donates a bit of fuel to the body. Not just your problem areas—even if you’re crunching your midsection a thousand times a day, your body still will get fat and fuel from all over.
That’s why when you lose five or ten pounds, you may not notice it, because five or ten pounds taken from everywhere on the body isn’t as spectacular as if you lost five pounds of fat from your waist.
Mean people didn’t just say spot training isn’t real and closed the book on the idea. No, they actually tested it with science and stuff.
In one study, subjects were divided into two groups: people on diets and people on diets who were told to spot train only their abdominal muscles.
Result? Both groups lost weight, reduced their belly fat and lowered their BMI, but they were pretty much equal. Neither group fared better than the other. Now, we aren’t saying don’t do sit ups—the exercise will help build your muscles. But understand, you won’t see those muscles until you lose the fat around them, and that is not something you can spot train or spot reduce.
In another study conducted on tennis players yielded the same results. You would think that tennis players who favor and use one arm more than the other should be walking around sporting an oddly unbalanced set of arms because technically using just one to whack a ball thousands of times a day is a way to spot train. But when their arms were measured, they found the same amount of fat on both arms. So, our bodies prefer symmetry, it seems.
Finally, another study had subjects spot train, or only workout their non-dominant arm for twelve weeks (seriously, who agreed to this? Haven’t they ever had a crooked canoe? It HURTS.)
The results—an MRI assessment showed fat loss was generalized rather than only occurring in the trained arm.
How the Body Burns Fat
The reason behind why you can’t spot train is because of the way our bodies burn fat. The fat stored in cells are triglycerides. Muscle cells can’t chug on some fat cells and get fuel. Just like the body doesn’t use the food you eat in the form you consumed it. It has to be broken down. So this fat is broken down into glycerol and fatty acids which are shuttled to the blood stream and then used as fuel. So you can see—the muscles don’t care from where they get the fat and the body breaks it down from everywhere to ensure your muscles get fuel.
In other words, body smartly picks and breaks down fat from all over the body for a general and gradual fat loss rather than plucking some plumpness from your problem areas. We just weren’t made that way.
Spot Toning Versus Spot Training
Now that the bad news is out of the way, the good news is this: if you DO work on one area more than the rest, you are building up the muscle. So…you can spot train muscle but you can’t make the fat around it disappear.
If you combine that effort of spot training with a smart diet, when you do drop the weight, your muscles will be ready to be shared with the world.
In other words, if you want more defined shoulders or bigger biceps, you can build them. They will come. But you’ll still need to lose the fluff before they’ll be found.
You can expedite reduction of fluff by circuit training. This is the opposite of spot toning, but it can help get your body where you need it to be. Put in some time on whole body workouts even if it’s just once a week. Whole body workouts can burn more calories and expedite fat loss. And while you probably don’t want to hear it—cardio.
Yeah we said it. Cardio.
It burns fat. That’s what you want.
So, whole body workouts including cardio—couple that with your spot toning exercises and you’re well on your way to making people still believe in that spot training unicorn.
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